September 24, 2012

Take Your Kids to Work Day...Airline Style

 This is why pilots rarely take their kids to work....

As the son of an airline pilot, some of my favorite childhood memories are of the times I got to tag along with my dad at work.   Often these were simple trips to check his mail box at the airport, but when I was 12, he started taking me along on trips when he was piloting the airplane.

Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas, Nevada and San Francisco, California stand out as a few of my favorites.   In Portland, we rented car and drove up the Columbia River gorge and wandered around Mt. Hood before returning to the city. In Vegas...well, I was 12, so it probably wasn't the usual Las Vegas experience, but still a wonderful memory. In San Francisco we rode cable cars, got locked in a prison cell at Alcatraz and ate at Scoma's, our family's favorite restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf. Travel, airplanes and time alone with my dad...what a great combination.

I have two daughters, ages 12 and 15.  Both girls want to accompany me on one of my trips.  I've been dragging my feet, wondering how my dad found the courage to let me go at such a young age. I can't imagine having to leave one of my girls behind. 

As an airline employee, I'm able to travel for free anywhere my airline flies. The catch is that I only get a seat if there is one available when he flight leaves. If the plane fills up, I don't go. It's that simple. These days, the airplanes are so full that non-rev travel isn't much of a benefit. To make matters worse, the internet has created a mechanism for airlines to fill seats at the last minute, which makes planning a trip very difficult.

On a family vacation, if we don't get seats, we're still together as a family.  We consider it an adventure in travel! But if I'm working the trip and the plane fills up...I have to go and my kid has to stay behind. It's the stress of that possibility that led me to wait much longer than my dad did with me.

This week, my oldest daughter was having a rough week. The homecoming dance was quickly approaching and she didn't get invited. After a few teary nights waiting for the phone to ring, I decided it was time to invite my daughter to go with me on a long layover.  I thought I could provide her with a much more pleasant memory if I could get her out of town and away from all her friend's facebook updates.  She was excited that I had finally relented...she's been telling me she was old and mature enough for a long time.  So I got on the computer and tried to find something fun.

My favorite layovers are on the west coast. New York would be good too.  Maybe something on the beach! But nothing was open that appealed to me on any significant level.  I settled on a 32 hour layover in Columbus, Ohio. I know, it doesn't sound all that exciting, but this was more about time together than anything else. Most importantly, the flights were wide open both ways. What could possibly go wrong?

The trip up went fine. I got my daughter a first class seat and the cabin crew did a wonderful job of making my girl feel like a part of the crew. It was my leg, and I managed a smooth landing.  Not that it mattered, but I wanted my daughter to think I knew what I was doing and as far as I can tell, the landing is all anyone ever remembers. So far so good.

Simon or Pumba? I can never remember.
The next day we woke early and headed for the gym. After a good workout we went for a swim then got cleaned up and fed ourselves before hailing a cab and heading out for the zoo. (As a side note, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is wonderful and totally worth your time.) After the zoo, we rested up in the hotel then ate a nice dinner before catching a late movie.  We were in bed at a decent hour and had a fantastic time together.  Good memories!  

The next day, I got up early and reached for my iPad. I wanted to check on our flight and make sure everything was still in order. We were the second flight out of town that morning and the first flight was listed as cancelled. This is exactly why I had waited so long to take this trip. My flight was going to leave on time and completely full.  Actually, there wouldn't be enough seats for the paying passengers much less a non-rev.  My daughter was going to get left behind.

Once at the airport, I got a bunch of cash out of an ATM machine and left my daughter with the card...something I've never done before and hope to never do again.  I sat her down and told her what to do and what to expect.  I told her where to sit, who to talk to and more importantly who to avoid.  I gave her a list of all the flights home that day and showed her where to eat. She had a full charge on her phone and computer and there was a free wifi signal in the terminal. Don't talk to strangers!  I didn't want her to see it in my eyes, but I was concerned. She didn't want me to see it either, but she was too.

The gate agents were great. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect from them, but they were all tremendously helpful and understanding. I would like to specifically thank Natalie, who promised to stay with my daughter all day and even offered to take her home that night if she wasn't able to get on a flight. Natalie gave me her phone number and promised to stay in touch.  She really put me at ease. 

I was on and off the phone with my wife...who wasn't exactly happy either. While I was preparing my daughter for her solo trip home, my wife searched the Internet for options. In the end, we elected to purchase a full fare ticket on another airline. She would still have to travel on her own and would have to make a stop-over in Charlotte, but she would be a positive space passenger and would for sure get home.  I walked my daughter over to the U.S. Airways gate, which was just a short walk from mine.  I was still on the phone with my wife, who was in the process of paying for the airline ticket online, when my daughter and I reached the gate.  Before I left, my daughter had tickets in hand and was in the care of yet another wonderfully helpful gate agent.

I'm writing this from the lounge area at U.S. Airways gate E36 at the Dallas, Ft. Worth International Airport.  I left Columbus, Ohio this morning at 9am, flew to DFW, then to Salt Lake City and back. Needless to say, I'm exhausted. I think my subconscious must have known what was coming, because I woke up at 2am and again at 4 during the night and was awakened at 6:30 by my alarm. That's when all the fun started.  I sit here now with heavy eyes.

Like my memories of Portland, Las Vegas and San Francisco, I think my daughter made life-long memories today.  I also think she'll remember this day much longer than she would have remembered her date to the homecoming dance. I left her this morning with $100 cash and my ATM card.  Apparently, the cash wasn't near enough and she's already drained a little more out of my account. "I was hungry daddy."  I’ll let her new collection of t-shirts and books go without comment. 

I know she's on that plane...but I'll feel much better when I see her smiling face.


  1. Wow. You have more courage than me! Although, at least you had a little time to plan... and make all the right decisions.
    When I think of a solo trip with one of my kids, the scenario always ends with them getting bumped at the last second and me pushing back with a golf ball sized lump in my throat. So, I will probably start bringing them around age 26. :)
    Great read... thanks for sharing.
    - Brian

    1. I think it will be a while before I do it again...and my younger daughter will lose out, because I probably won't let her go at 15. Live and learn.

      Thanks for the comment Brian. I check your blog often.

    2. I to am an airline employee. My wife and son have spent many a night in PIT airport. I might sugest that the learning experiance your daughter learned will cause her to be resourceful and independent. She has learned that she can and will over come many obsticles. There is no better lesson you could teach your daughter. You both will have the memories yes but she will become a woman who you will be proud of and know that she can and will take care of herself and her family. She will be less likely to marry a bum because she will not "need" to be taken care of. She will always be your little girl, and will someday become a wonderful wife and mother. This will be because you helped her grow into the Woman she will become. Thank you so much for sharing your time you had with your daughter with us. It was inspiring.

  2. Great story...and I am sure your daughter will always remember that trip.

    The Columbus Zoo is great! it actually feels like an amusement park in a way with the beautiful landscaping and the music and attractions.

  3. At 16 I was doing roundtrips LAX/ORD?LAX by my lonesome. I just loved to fly. Thankfully my seniority courtesy of the stepdad was high (1936). I always had extra cash and knew my way around TWA's route map that i could make my way home. And I always carried a surcharge for an upgrade just in case.

    Glad your daughter made it home safe and sound. IT's an adventure she won't forget.

    1. At AA, everyone travels first-come, first-served. Non-rev benefits are not based on seniority except when it comes to cockpit jumpseats. When I was a kid, my dad was a Delta pilot and I got to travel using his seniority, which was pretty high after a 32 year career. I only felt a small amount of guilt when bumping a more junior pilot and his family out of one of those cushy fist class seats!

  4. Having non-rev'd on a buddy pass (with a decent seniority) on Delta, I know how it feels. I think it's awesome that you brought her along with you to Ohio. And to the zoo, too! Looks like a great time.

    You daughter is very mature, and having traveled alone at the age of 16 I can totally relate to her feelings about it. And I'm sure my parents can relate to your feelings as well.

    I'd go on a plane any day over a date on a homecoming dance for sure! ;-)

  5. Or, when your younger daughter gets to be 15, buy her tickets on your flight (I suppose you should have some discount if you decide to purchase them ahead of time, right?). If there are places open, she can go & enjoy first class, if not, at least she'll be on the plane for sure and you won't have that to worry about...

  6. Brings back so many good memories about trips with my father, back in the days when extra seats were always available. One I remember is June 9, 1973. We grabbed a flight to New York to see Secretariat win the triple crown. Mom was less than thrilled that we "missed" her aunt's birthday but what the heck. Another time my then girlfirend had to go to LA for a wedding. He made sure he bid the flight--for many years he was the senior pilot at ORD--and then the two of us were late, a TV appearance but that is another story. Anyway that bird was going nowhere until we were on it. It also pissed her mother off no end that her daughter was in 1st class.
    In some ways I think my kids are missing out but then again I am home more regularly and we have had some pretty wonderful experiances.

  7. What a great story. A life experience she will cary with her for the resto of her life. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Memories with dad are great. If dad happens to be a pilot, what more can one ask for? Pilots are the most grounded, practical and easy going folks, I guess. Lucky are those who have them as dads. Lovely story. Thanks for sharing.

  9. OMG, I can so relate! Coincidentally, I flew my flight out of gate E36, DFW, today as well--was wondering if I had her on my flight, b4 reading the date of your post, LOL!

    Yes, sad that airlines filling up the seats and/or cancellations have completely screwed up the nonrev experience for employees...chalk it up to the "new efficiency" of Travelocity, etc., eeking out a butt in every seat! And, post 9/11, we can't get away with any "shenanigans" whatsoever when it comes to, uh, bending the rules!

    My young, naive (at the time) wife had a similar watershed moment when I had to leave her behind in LAS at midnight, her first time on her own out of her little cowtown and she was terrified! But she learned that she could handle it all and in the end a "monster" was created--I swear that gal's got more "frequent flyer miles" than I have!!